Mark Devries produced and directed the award-winning 2013 documentary Speciesism: The Movie, which screened at theaters worldwide and has been featured in Scientific American (“brilliant and compelling”), The Huffington Post (“tremendously entertaining”), CNN Headline News, Psychology Today, and most popularly The Sydney Morning Herald, among many others. Devries filmed the world’s first aerial drone footage of factory farms, released as part of his 2014 Factory Farm Drone Project. Devries continues to appear and speak at special screenings of Speciesism, while working on several new projects. He currently lives in New York City.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Oh, let’s try that again. You got it? Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass. It looks like I was speaking into the wrong microphone but now it’s the right one. And thank you for joining me today on It’s All About Food. It’s December 30, 2014, not much left of this year. Are you ready for 2015? I am. Do we have a choice? I guess, not really—but, 2015! It’s going to be good, right? We’re all looking for a better year although it depends on how you look at it. 2014 had its ups and downs just like any time. I was just looking over the Responsible Eating and Living website and some of the things that we were doing over the last year. I’m a bit of a workaholic and yet I’m always judging myself and thinking I didn’t do enough—I didn’t get enough work done. And yet when you look back even if you just look at the pictures from the year and you’ve seen all the things you’ve done, I’m really pleased what we’ve accomplished and what happened in 2014. Reviewing it all made me really excited about what we’re going to be doing for 2015 so stay tuned for that. So the holidays are almost over and I hope you have survived so far. You know that food is always that important element in holidays. It could be a good element. It could be a bad element. It can cause a lot of frustration and tension with family members who may not agree with what you want to eat. We all tend to over indulge even the ones who are particularly careful. I know that I did. I always like to say I’m not a religious person but I love holidays and I love food. So, we did a little bit of Hanukkah. We did a little bit of Christmas. Hanukkah consisted of lighting the Menorah and singing some songs and making my favorite Baked Potato Latkes recipe. I hope you’ve checked it out and hope you’ve checked out that video. I just love this recipe and I just took the recipe yesterday and modified it. Instead of using potatoes I used turnips because I had a lot of turnips from my winter CSA. I was never a turnip fan as a kid but I’m really liking turnips today and they made a wonderful turnip pancake. I haven’t posted the recipe yet but stay tuned. It should get up on the website soon. I really liked the way we did Christmas this year. We just kind of did it in an intense way. It started maybe like 24 hours before Christmas Eve with some decorating and some cooking. And then we had a nice Christmas day dinner. And then, it was over and we cleaned up. Not too much music, not too much of anything—it was really just a lovely, lovely moment and some great food like my favorite almond biscotti that I like to make for holidays. We have that recipe at Responsible Eating and Living. We had this wonderful breakfast, which consisted of our no-egg French omelet soufflé with kale and onions. It’s a delicious kind of decadent breakfast when you’re having a special event or holiday so you might check that out at Responsible Eating and Living. I just wanted to talk about food a little bit because It’s All About Food. So that was a happy moment about food now let’s get to some more serious stuff about food because I know that’s what you want to hear, right? So I’m going to bring on my guest. He’s with me here in the studio. I’m very happy about that. I’ve got Mark Devries and he produced and directed the award winning 2013 documentary Speciesism: The Movie, which screened at theaters worldwide, and has been featured in Scientific American, The Huffington Post, CNN Headline News, Psychology Today and most popularly the Sydney Morning Herald among many others. Devries filmed the world’s first aerial drone footage of factory farms released as part of his 2014 Factory Farm Drone project. Devries continues to appear and speak at special screenings of Speciesism while working on several new projects. He currently lives in New York City and that’s why we’re lucky to have him here in the studio. Hi Mark!
Mark Devries: Hi! Thanks very much for having me here.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah! I’m really excited. Let’s talk first about your movie Speciesim. That’s fun to say.
Mark Devries: Right. It took me a while to figure out what was the right way to say it. But yeah, it’s Species-ism.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s that S in the middle that kind of throws me—“Specieeeeessss-ism”. What is speciesism while we’re on the subject?
Mark Devries: Well, some philosophers and scientists starting in the 1970s began to argue that our unthinking assumption that humans are more important ethically than non-human animals—that there’s a justification for a sharp ethical distinction that we make between humans and non-human animals. They argue it’s a form of prejudice, similar to prejudices against groups of humans like racism and sexism. To analogize with that they popularized the term Speciesism. These philosophers and scientists and lawyers have been arguing that if we can’t find a philosophical and ethical justification for this sharp distinction that we draw between humans and non-human animals in terms of how much we matter ethically they argue that the way in which we treat animals, for example, billions of animals on factory farms may be one of the most serious ethical issues of our time.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember when I first heard about it. It was a long time ago and it was when I heard Gary Francione speak at a summer fest event and he was the first one who said “racism, homophobism, sexism, speciesism” all together. But I don’t think he originated that whole phrase but that’s where I first heard it. It was one of these pow, whoa I get it!
Mark Devries: Right. One of the reasons, the reason I named the film Speciesism: The Movie and the reason I speak about that in the film is because it really has an impact to think about how one’s own assumptions may be a form of prejudice. We all think about how other people and much of society in the past and obviously to a large extent often still in the present harbor all kinds of prejudices that we like to assume we don’t have. We like to say that we’re not racist and we’re not sexist and so forth. The term Speciesism is a wake up call to get us to think about why do we assume that non-human animals members of other species that they’re well being is significantly less important than our own. The evidence is very strong that they are capable of suffering physically and emotionally probably to the very same level of intensity as human beings. So why is it that we should think that their suffering is significantly less important than ours. That’s a really significant question.
Caryn Hartglass: There were a number of moments in your film when you post questions like that to people and you could really see how it just didn’t process with them because of their understanding and prejudices and cultural biases whatever. It just doesn’t compute.
Mark Devries: It takes a while, absolutely. I think when you first hear it, it’s just sort of where our habits in terms of our behavior and in terms of our thinking are ingrained from when we’re very young to view non-human animals as completely distinct ethically. So when you first come across it, it sometimes is just sort of a shock, the idea just doesn’t make sense. It takes awhile which is why I sort of repeat it in different ways and show different ways of expressing the idea in the film because it really takes that to try to break down years, often decades, of the development of this view of ourselves and non-human animals.
Caryn Hartglass: For some people they don’t ever want to make the acknowledgement because it would go against everything they’ve ever believed and who they are and it takes a lot of courage. I think it’s easier sometimes for younger people to make the change because they don’t have as much invested in their own ethics and morality and philosophy. It’s harder for older people.
Mark Devries: Right, absolutely that seems to be the case. One phrase that I’ve heard is change happens funeral by funeral in terms of that as new generations come in those are the people, rather than the people alive today who are the ones who are more likely to make a change and then the generation following that even more likely and so forth with most of the changes in society’s perceptions.
Caryn Hartglass: Now you appear in this film Speciesism: The Movie as if you are learning along the way. Is that what’s really happening or is that just part of the story?
Mark Devries: I actually was not as familiar with the issue when I started out as I was by the end of the film. When I first came across the issue, I came across some demonstrations like it shows in the film, some protests by some organizations like PETA and I became curious about what was behind all of that. So I did some initial research on factory farming and on the issue of animal rights and so forth but it was actually during the film that I really was able to make the intellectual and emotional switch in my perception of non-human animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Now how did the film change you? Has it changed the way you eat?
Mark Devries: Oh yeah, I was not vegan when I started making the film and I was vegan by the time I finished it.
Caryn Hartglass: Now I only watched the film once and I don’t remember you using the word “vegan” or “vegetarian”. Did I miss something or was that intentional?
Mark Devries: It is in there but I don’t stress it from the beginning because I think a lot of people who are not already vegetarian or vegan it’s sort of distracting to start talking about that question from the beginning because the deeper, underlying question is about whether or not we can justify our views of non-human animals and how, of course, the evidence and argument seem to suggest that we can’t. The conclusions about the questions of whether or not we should go vegetarian or vegan follow a little bit later on.
Caryn Hartglass: There were a number of different moments in the film—and I really recommend watching this film, it’s 90 minutes…right an hour and a half, pretty much?
Mark Devries: Ninety-four minutes, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a $1.99, which in my book is free. I was trying to figure out what that’s relative to, so I was thinking it’s less than a day using my cell phone, $1.99, because my cell phone plan is more than that, unfortunately. It’s less than, or pretty close to, the price of a venti hot tea with soy milk at Starbucks.
Mark Devries: Probably less.
Caryn Hartglass: Probably less. So it’s very reasonable, worth watching. Especially worth watching with someone who really isn’t as familiar with what’s going on or seems to think they are. It’s a film for people who don’t want to see what’s really going on in the factories, the horrible part, you don’t really see that so people don’t have to be afraid that there’s going to be that horrible footage. It’s really just talking about some very fundamental concepts about species and the ability to feel pain and suffering and what we are contributing to by our own actions.
Mark Devries: The website is speciesismthemovie.com
Caryn Hartglass: speciesismthemovie.com
Mark Devries: Speciesism is the word “species” like the species of animal and then “i-s-m” just like racism or sexism.
Caryn Hartglass: So you really should check that out. Now a couple of moments for me…there was the couple that had a chicken farm that you tried to get on? There was a woman…
Mark Devries: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: …and she didn’t want you on the farm. She didn’t want you to see anything. That tells me so much right away. When somebody is afraid or reluctant to show you what’s going on…everything should be transparent.
Mark Devries: Right. If they’re reluctant to show you what’s going on…and I even said “look, we can give you the camera and you can go in, we don’t even need to go in there” and of course they were unwilling to do it. This was a rare example of…unlike the usual contract farmers where people are contractors raising birds, for example, for a large corporation this was one independent farm so I was actually able to speak with the owners who you see in the film. That was one of the co-owners of this husband and wife team and it was 800,000 birds—800,000 in this egg farm. As described in the film it smelled horrific just being nearby. They were completely unwilling even to, as I said, let me give them the camera so they could go in and film what was going on inside to show what they claimed was nothing problematic. I said, “look here, why don’t you prove it?”
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the part of humanity that I find really hard to understand. They knew what they were doing and they knew it was something people didn’t want to see.
Mark Devries: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And how do they do that?
Mark Devries: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: But they do it and a lot of people do it and by buying their products you are part of the problem.
Mark Devries: Right and by changing your consumer choices you are part of the solution.
Caryn Hartglass: I like that. That’s positive.
Mark Devries: It really is true that each one of us has real power in the choices that we make in consumer choices. That’s what drives the industry to make improvements and so forth.
Caryn Hartglass: If the customer wasn’t there, the product wouldn’t be there, in most cases.
Mark Devries: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: There are companies that are making products that are going to teach us that we need to use but we really need to be mindful about everything that we use, everything that we do and everything we purchase, I think. Another favorite moment was when you went to the Simon Wiesenthal Institute. I forget exactly the man you were speaking to.
Mark Devries: It was one of the directors.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the directors. So this man did not want to hear anything that you had to say. He was pretending to be polite but there was this big wall around him.
Mark Devries: Right. I think…
Caryn Hartglass: And you could see how wrong he was.
Mark Devries: Right. It was very obvious that’s why that particular scene is so interesting because it was very obvious based upon the conversation that you see there and that’s actually, probably, the only part of the film that has a fairly extended single clip where he’s asked to justify his position and he, after several attempts to change the subject and move on to other things, he admits “I don’t know”. That was very telling especially for someone who has thought about this: That when you really do think about these questions, questions that we assume usually have an easy answer that humans are more important for some reason or another…once you start really thinking about it, in a deeper way, things fall apart and our view of animals seems like it is required to change.
Caryn Hartglass: Now did he know that you made a film out of that interview?
Mark Devries: I haven’t spoken with him since the film.
Caryn Hartglass: Did he know that was part of the plan—that you wanted to make a documentary?
Mark Devries: Oh, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: And he agreed to that?
Mark Devries: Yeah. Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: And afterwards, it was over and he forgot about it?
Mark Devries: I think probably, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, too bad, interesting. People just don’t even realize what they’re saying.
Mark Devries: Right, it’s interesting to see one of the…in the case of our view of animals it’s often very funny and that’s why I show the often funny scenes of me speaking with people on the street asking them how they justify the view that humans are more important than animals…
Caryn Hartglass: They can’t.
Mark Devries: One of the consequences is it’s actually pretty funny to see how it is that we do these mental gymnastics trying to justify something that seems so obvious but on some brief reflection seems very difficult to justify.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. You kept bringing up the subject of pain and how these animals feel pain. We know it and how are we capable of allowing them to continue to feel pain and comparing it with the holocaust and how many people say, “oh you can’t do that!”. Yeah you can do it because it’s just another part of humanity, something that we’ve done that’s wrong and people go along with it and it has to stop. It’s just wrong. Now there’s just two more things and then we’ll move on to some new stuff. I appreciated you including your father in the film and his own journey with pain. That was very powerful.
Mark Devries: I think that is often…many people’s favorite part of the film in terms of what they find most powerful…that my father as a result of an injury suffers from severe chronic pain and pointing out that non-human animals, for example, like birds who are used for food, who are bred to grow so big, so fast, that their bodies are collapsing, that the evidence suggests very strongly that they feel severe intense physical pain. If physical pain is as strong in non-human animals as it is in humans which is what the evidence points to, speaking with a person who suffers severe pain really helps us realize just how serious this is because even though these animals can’t talk, here’s a person experiencing basically, more or less, the same type of thing who can describe it. So in a sense he’s describing it for the animals. And that’s something I don’t think had ever been done before in a documentary or I suppose anywhere. That really has an impact on audiences.
Caryn Hartglass: Something that surprises me is there are journalists and other people who have researched factory farming. Some of them have put out movies or created organizations or written books. One of my favorites is David Kirby’s book Animal Factory and he’s a best-selling author and I had him on this program, very bright and his story is more about the human perspective, how factory farming negatively affects humans and it’s pretty awful in terms of the environmental degradation and the businesses that go out of business when factory farms come into town and all the pollution and it’s just horrible. But it didn’t cause him to change the way he eats in terms of eliminating animal products from his diet. He cares about sustainable agriculture and we can all define that any way we want to—humane production of animals. I don’t know how you could dig into a subject like this and not come to the conclusion “I am not going to participate in this.”
Mark Devries: I think a big part of it is that we are all so ingrained in the habits of eating animals and everyone around us does it and we see it as just part of the way things are that we don’t even think of it as something that makes sense to question, to say, “wait a second, why don’t we just not eat animals, why are we raising and killing all of these animals to eat their corpses when we just don’t have to do that.” That is something that has only relatively recently started to be discussed on a broader scale in our society. That’s why we’re seeing the beginnings of real changes in terms of the number of animals being raised for food going down quite dramatically for the first time since the dawn of factory farming.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. I think in this country numbers are going down. Unfortunately in China and India they are going up.
Mark Devries: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And they don’t want to learn from our mistakes: Who would want to?
Mark Devries: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: And they’re getting diabetes and all kinds of health issues as a result. It’s just a disaster. Another book I wanted to mention was Stephen Wise, American Trilogy: Death, Slavery and Dominion on the Banks of the Cape Fear River and he connects the dots between how we had slavery in North Carolina with African Americans and how that kind of morphed into how we treat animals in factory farms. More pigs are slaughtered in North Carolina in this country than anywhere and there’s so much pollution. You showed some of it and maybe your factory farm drone project is going to go there too? Let’s get into that but I just wanted to mention sort of changing the subject but Steve Wise has got a number of court cases here in New York where he’s trying to get habeas corpus, he’s trying to get these animals recognized as sentient beings so that they don’t have to be imprisoned and allow a few chimps to go to sanctuaries. The wonderful news is in Argentina they actually approved this habeas corpus concept for an orangutan and freed this orangutan and allowed it to go to a sanctuary. This is new news, that’s why I’m mentioning it, just like connecting some dots here with something that Steve Wise is trying to do here in New York. It’s interesting that Argentina is ahead of us in this liberty and freedom kind of game but it’s relatively good news.
Mark Devries: Steve Wise actually says he was influenced to take on this topic after reading Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. Peter Singer’s arguments from Animal Liberation are one of the main points of discussion in the film and of course I speak with Peter Singer in some detail in the film. That’s also what popularized the term “speciesism”.
Caryn Hartglass: One thing that is frustrating to me: I know that change takes a long time but I want it now. I want everybody to be happy and not to suffer and not have pain. I started on this path a long time ago, like 40 years ago, let’s say and learned a little bit here and there by a book and a magazine. We didn’t have the internet when I got started and yet it still mind boggling to me because I talk about this stuff every day to a lot of people who talk about this stuff every day. And yet there’s still so many people who don’t know and that’s why we need people like you, Mark Devries, creating new works that people can be exposed to. We need to be like slamming people with this information day in and day out.
Mark Devries: I think it is entering into the mainstream discussion, more so just in the past decade, more than it ever has before. We see it now, for the first time, being discussed in major newspapers and magazines and so forth. So I think we have every reason to be optimistic in terms of the discussion developing. And also in terms of more and more people actually changing their own consumer choices and their own diets.
Caryn Hartglass: As this concept gets more and more known, we have lots of different factions appearing. So it’s not just being vegan or not eating animals. There are people approaching it from different angles about how we move forward and how we make change. I’ve been talking a lot about it on this program—how polarized we’ve become. You have a number of people in your movie Speciesism – Bruce Friedrich and Nathan Runkle from Mercy for Animals. Bruce Friedrich was with PETA at the time; now he’s with Farm Sanctuary. I’m trying to think of some other people… You also had Gary Francione. Gary is diametrically opposed to the activities that people like Bruce Friedrich and Nathan Runkle are doing, where they have this step-by-step making improvements for animals any way we can get them, versus the opposite opinion, which is just making it all go away. Do you fit in somewhere in that continuum?
Mark Devries: It’s such a complex issue that I don’t really take a strong view on it, at least not currently. But, interestingly, I filmed a debate—a really good, interesting debate—between Bruce Friedrich and Gary Francione, who are both major proponents of two very different views there. You can see it on YouTube if you type in “Bruce Friedrich Gary Francione debate” or something like that. That really hashes out a lot of the major issues.
Caryn Hartglass: From down deep within me I want to side with Gary Francione because I just think all of this stuff is wrong and it needs to go away. There’s a realist in me that says, ‘Well, that’s just not going to happen!’ We need to make improvements any way we possible can.
Mark Devries: Interestingly, people who are in favor of reforms (for example, Bruce Friedrich) are obviously also vegan, and also in favor of abolishing the use of non-human animals, and people being vegan, and so forth—abolishing their [non-human animals’] use for food and so forth. But they argue, of course, that if we’re thinking about how to reduce the most suffering, considering the amount of suffering that’s going on with billions of non-human animals on factory farms every year, the things we can do in terms of reforms, they argue, can reduce significant amounts of suffering that make a difference to significant numbers of animals that are not going to be affected any time soon in terms of if we’re looking at the number of people going vegetarian and vegan. There are all kinds of interesting, quite detailed but philosophical and empirical discussions.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Now the last thing I want to talk about your film, before we move on to the next big subject, is Speciesism: The Movie – there was a moment where one of your team was talking about his epiphany, and he’s driving in the car and basically talking about this frustration that a lot of us have: what do we do, what can we do. What we want to do is scream at everyone, when you realize what’s going on, and you want to say, ‘This can’t happen anymore!’ You want to shake everybody, ‘C’mon! Don’t you get it!’ But you can’t do that.
Mark Devries: Right. I think most people (or probably most people) go through some period where they first really learn about what happens to animals. And when it first clicks that it’s this serious, ethically, they look around and the world looks so different, and people look bad. And it is important to remember both that people, rather than being bad, are engrained in their habits and in their thinking; and also that things are, despite these engrained habits, really changing in terms of, as we mentioned, the number of animals raised for food going down; the public discussion about what happens to animals going up. And it’s something that takes place over generations, and the best way to take part in that and help things continue moving forward is to be understanding and to have empathy for people who don’t understand yet and haven’t made changes in their thinking and in their choices, One of the things that I always find useful is when someone asks you, for example, “Why are you vegetarian?” or “Why are you vegan?” Instead of, as many people are in the habit of doing, and that I was in the habit of doing, telling them why—“Well because this is what happens to animals…and this is what happens to the environment” and so forth—letting them into your thought process. So saying things like, “Oh well I came across this stuff recently about factory farming and I came across x, y, and z. The more I think about it, it seems like I can’t really justify supporting this. So it seems tentatively it seems like I ought not to support this. What do you think?” And making it a discussion where you and the person you’re speaking with are both looking at the issues and questions together makes it something that’s not combative and that opens people’s minds to thinking about it. I think that really makes all the difference.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a good approach, a very good approach. You don’t want to be combative; you don’ want to put people on the defensive. There are still going to be a lot of people that say, “Oh, I can’t give up my…” whatever.
Mark Devries: Right. Although, as more and more people become vegetarian and vegan, more and more vegetarian and vegan options become available. So a lot of the people who wouldn’t have been willing to make the change now would be willing to make the change. People in that same level of willingness to make the change, as it becomes more convenient, are more willing to make the change in the future. Just like a lot of people who become vegetarian and vegan now wouldn’t have been willing to do it maybe a decade or so ago.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, we’re more followers than we are leaders, aren’t we? So we just need to tip the scale enough to get everybody following. Very good. Let’s take a little break and then I want to talk about your factory farm drone project, very exciting. Okay, we’ll be right back!
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass. We’re back, on December 30th, 2014, for another part of It’s All About Food. I’m here in the studio with Mark Devries, who is the creator of Speciesism: The Movie. And we’re going to be talking more about factory farming, that’s what it’s all about. But I just want to remind you, you can send me comments and questions to my email: email@example.com. And I love to hear from you! You know that. So factoryfarmdrones.com. Is that where we go?
Mark Devries: Yeah, factoryfarmdrones.com.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, okay. Now, drones are an interesting thing. I’m not exactly sure when they first came into use, but more people are using them in creative ways. Do we just go to Home Depot and pick one up? How do we get a drone?
Mark Devries: Well there are different types of drones that have different capabilities. So there are consumer drones that you can get that you can fly around that you can attach certain types of small cameras to. The ones I used were a little bit more sophisticated, in that I was able to set a GPS to have it go to specific locations, and set an altitude hold so that it would hover at a certain altitude so that I could take footage of specific places at exact, known locations at certain altitudes and then bring the drone back to where I was, and so forth. That really allowed me to get a lot of, as I can talk about and as you can see at factoryfarmdrones.com, really dramatic images of how these massive pig factory farms function. I knew about it, and I had seen it from an airplane for my movie, Speciesism, from a few thousand feet. But there wasn’t any footage from an aerial shot up close. Even knowing what to expect in the abstract, I was just shocked when the footage came back.
Caryn Hartglass: When you see these giant lagoons filled with piss and poop…
Mark Devries: Right. There are thousands upon thousands of pigs in each facility, generally. They live in crowded pens over concrete slatted floors.
Caryn Hartglass: And you can’t see them…
Mark Devries: Right. They’re inside of these buildings–these huge warehouse-looking buildings. The waste falls through the slats in the floors and is flushed through the slats in the floors using hoses and so forth into giant, open-air cesspools–just out in the open, often the size of several football fields in area, just filled with toxic animal manure from thousands and thousands of animals making millions of gallons of waste. And pig waste is actually similar to human waste. So it would, in many ways, be similar to having a gigantic lake of untreated human sewage just out in the open. In North Carolina, there are literally thousands of these. So I went to several different facilities for the factory farm drones project, and documented these open-air cesspools, and also from the ground documented how they get rid of the contents of the cesspool, which is almost too unbelievable to think it really happens. It’s sprayed using gigantic versions of garden sprayers straight up into the air, where it often turns into a fine mist and then drifts to neighboring communities. The public health impacts of these facilities have been documented and are very serious. There are increasing rates of upper respiratory ailments, spikes in people’s blood pressure when the odor and chemicals are coming their way, increases in asthma rates among school children nearby.
Caryn Hartglass: What stuns me is that we can’t do this with human waste. We have strict regulations for human waste. You can’t pee on a sidewalk, okay. You could get arrested. And yet we are allowed to have these open-air, giant cesspools—these poop pools, urine pools. There are a handful of regulations for them; and even when they are not followed, a lot of the factory farms don’t pay the fines. It’s just sick, sick, sick. And we allow it to happen. Every bite into a hamburger, every piece of bacon, every time you consume an animal product, you’re contributing to this. It’s like a tacit agreement.
Mark Devries: Right. And that’s also how to change things. To be reducing or limited in your purchase of these products is what causes fewer animals to be raised in these facilities, and reduces the environmental devastation. That is what has an impact. As long as people are continuing to buy the products, this will continue happening.
Caryn Hartglass: Now are we allowed to do this?
Mark Devries: Well, interestingly, it seems like the current laws that are so different between human waste and farm waste are perhaps a relic of the time when farms didn’t house thousands and thousands of animals. So farm waste was not that big of a problem; it was applied as fertilizer, for example, and it was manageable. Now, of course, with thousands upon thousands of animals indoors in these buildings, and it [their waste] being flushed into these cesspools, it’s basically like having a small or medium-sized city with all of the sewage just being dumped into a lake.
Caryn Hartglass: And what about the drones? Are there rules on how we can use them and not use them?
Mark Devries: Yeah. There are regulations, such as that the drones should be kept below 400 feet so that they don’t have any chance of interfering with airplanes (which, obviously, are much higher than 400 feet), but just to be safe, for example. Things like that, and I think as drones become more commonly used, both for investigative reporting and for people just playing with just the smaller consumer versions, we’ll see more regulations that hash out how we can compromise between the use of drones and making sure that they’re not a danger, for example, to aviation.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. So now you need to get as much footage as you possibly can before the rules get stricter against you. Because I can imagine any of these CAFOs—these Confined Animal Factory Organizations, these factory farms—they’re going to fight to get people not to do this. They don’t want anybody seeing anything that they’re doing.
Mark Devries: Right. Exactly. There are already places where, as a result of these laws called “ag gag laws,” it is illegal to film factory farms. In some ways, it might be beneficial, still, to get footage from those states precisely because being prosecuted under an ag gag law might just get even more public attention to what it is that you’re documenting.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. Tellin’ it like it is, which isn’t very good. Okay, so is there something new that we get from this kind of footage (other than being stunned at seeing this big pool of poop close up)?
Mark Devries: I think first, of course, it definitely is quite different close-up in terms of getting an idea of the scale of it, and being able to see, for example, the pipes that drain from the facilities \ into these lagoons, and so forth. And how close they are to people’s homes; how close the spray fields that spray the manure in the air are to neighborhoods. But also, in the future, drones might be able to be used to keep an eye out for specific infractions (for example, dumping waste directly into rivers or streams) that a wider use of drones to keep an eye on these factory farms might help keep them more accountable in terms of, largely, water pollution.
Caryn Hartglass: So what future plans do you have with your drones, or are you allowed to say? Or are they secret?
Mark Devries: Well I can’t give too many specific details, but I think that drones (mine included) will be able to continue filming different aspects of factory farming.
Caryn Hartglass: Do they work okay in bad weather?
Mark Devries: They do; of course it depends on the drone and it depends on how bad the weather is in terms of whether it’s rain or high winds. The drones that I used are designed to operate in rain, and are designed, using GPS simulation when they’re blown off course, to automatically come back to their course or their location.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember, when I was reading David Kirby’s book Animal Factory, it seemed like the worst things that happen with those lagoons were during bad weather situations.
Mark Devries: Exactly. I was just going to say that. Often, in terms of the lagoons overflowing when there’s sudden rain, and then that, of course, going right in to groundwater or rivers or streams, which is quite disastrous. And also before the rain, in order to prevent that, the farms often apparently do a lot more spraying in the air than they would to make sure the lagoon level stays a certain amount. So either way, whether it floods or it doesn’t, the consequences are bad.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just so disgusting… I just can’t believe what humans will invent. It took a scientist; it took an engineer; it took someone who had a college degree (or several) to invent these things, and then have companies want to support them and build them so that you could spray poop into the air.
Mark Devries: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh goodness. Can I ask you what kind of equipment you use when you’re filming?
Mark Devries: In terms of the drone equipment, or for other cameras?
Caryn Hartglass: Just for camera equipment.
Mark Devries: For the first film, I used an SD camera, actually a Panasonic DVX, which works very well in terms of bringing it around to a lot of places very quickly. It’s a very sturdy camera. And so when I was doing things like crawling through the bushes to get to the spray fields and pulling it out really fast to talk to these factory farmers, I was able to do that successfully with this particular type of camera. The camera that I’m going to be using is a high-definition similar version of that same type of camera.
Caryn Hartglass: Are they small?
Mark Devries: They’re relatively small. They’re not really small, but they’re not the kind that’s so big it has to be on your shoulder.
Caryn Hartglass: I was just wondering because there are a number of times in your movies where the people didn’t want the camera on, and yet somehow they remained on. So how did they not notice, unless…
Mark Devries: Well that was one of the camera operators, Alana, who did a very good job sort of innocently looking like she wasn’t paying attention anymore while still holding the camera. One time she actually unplugged her headphones and showed them the socket of the headphones and said, “Oh, it’s unplugged,” as if that was relevant to it not filming.
Caryn Hartglass: Very clever! Very clever indeed. It’s amazing what we can do today, and it’s a good thing that we have these cameras and we have this technology and we have the Internet so that we can share all of this information because, unfortunately, if people can get away with things, they will.
Mark Devries: Right. And I think that’s the role of documentary film and investigative reporting.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Let’s see. Anything else you want to add about factory farm droning that we need to know about?
Mark Devries: Well I think that in addition to just the footage form the drones, which is really dramatic, it makes a big difference to hear from the neighbors who’ve been affected by these facilities. I do that in the first film, Speciesism: The Movie and in the factory farm drone project. People describe not being able to open their windows when the wind is coming their way. One person actually described the spray field being so close that it actually sprays onto her house—where she can walk outside and, as she says in the video, it’s like it’s raining. The impacts on these neighbors and the fact that it’s not a bigger, national outrage is actually quite surprising to me. I think it might have something to do with the fact that people still perceive of farms as being inherently not that bad. If these were chemical plants or something else like that, and they were have these impacts on people, people might be quicker to realize something is seriously wrong, whereas we still assume that farms are not factories. But these are factories and this is just like having factory pollution.
Caryn Hartglass: Well if you look and see where many of these factories are, they typically come into poor communities where people are not empowered and they don’t have the ability to make change. They do that intentionally, and they even convince the local governments that they’re going to improve the economy; they make some promises and they’re going to bring in more jobs. I remember reading in that book Animal Factory that it never happened – that they brought people in, typically from other places, and didn’t hire the people from within. And even if they did, they’re low paying.
Mark Devries: There are a relatively small number of low-paying jobs that don’t offer an opportunity for advancement because it’s really centralized, vertically integrated companies where they’re just looking to hire people for specific hourly positions that aren’t going to change. So it’s not going to increase people’s quality of life when those farms come in and replace other kinds of places. Also it can reduce the property values. So these farms move in near people’s homes and then the people can’t move out because they can’t afford to sell their home, which they can’t get any money for, and buy a home somewhere else. So they’re literally stuck; they’re prisoners to these massive, open-air cesspools that have now appeared outside their backyards.
Caryn Hartglass: So our craving—our desire for animal flesh—not only horribly affects animals, but it affects all of us: the people that live near these factories that have this horrible smell that’s affecting the health of their children, especially, and themselves; it pollutes the water; it’s just a disaster. And then we have something in the news all the time: food-borne illnesses. You might have heard just this week about caramel apples, and how there’s Listeria in these caramel apples, and how you shouldn’t be purchasing packaged caramel apples. Most of this type of problem in our food is caused by all this poop that gets out into the environment. Some of it is actually used as fertilizers on fruit and vegetable fields, and it just gets out of whack and contaminates everything.
Mark Devries: On top of that, the use of antibiotics is very serious and very troubling. In order to prevent them from getting ill when they’re in these stressful, tightly confined conditions, and also to increase their growth rate, often animals on factory farms are fed what are called low-level antibiotics—a consistent, low amount of antibiotics in their feed that adds up and then, of course, ends up in water supply and can result in antibiotic resistant bacteria that will prevent us from treating human ailments when bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics that we’re using. So it’s creating a serious public health threat that’s looming.
Caryn Hartglass: Looming! So we have two minutes, and I want to just sum up a few things and make a few recommendations. So we’ve got the New Year coming; people want to make resolutions. A great resolution would be: GO VEGAN! Or at least eat fewer animals, and let’s put these factory farms out of business. It’s up to each and every one of us. Maybe New Year’s Eve, if you don’t have any plans, you can invite some people over and watch Speciesism: The Movie. Right? And then if you think, ‘I don’t know how I could give up…’ whatever your favorite foods that might be that are animal-based, we can help you. We have so many recipes at my website responsibleeatingandliving.com. There are so many vegan cookbooks out there. There are so many free recipes you can get online. And if you have a particular little something you think you cannot get over and you need help, just send me an email! firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can’t help you, I’ll find somebody who can. We are out there to make this world a better place.
Mark Devries: Well thank you very much for having me on. And yeah, I can’t make a better recommendation than what you just did. It’s much easier than it ever has been to replace what you eat with vegan foods.
Caryn Hartglass: The foods fabulous, you’re going to look better, you’re going to feel sexier. Here’s to a plant-positive, powerful 2015! Okay, and remember have a delicious week! And a delicious year! Bye-bye.
Transcribed by Dominique Chambers 7/23/2015, Suzanne Kelly 8/17/2015, Mekala Bertocci 1/23/2015